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China: The U.S. Balancing Act

On the latest Global Pulse episode, host Erin Coker examines media coverage of the evolving relations between China and the US. Watch the episode below and share your thoughts!

While this week’s Global Pulse, called “Chimerica,” looks at what the two nations share, there are plenty of points of friction between them. The U.S. regularly criticizes China’s human rights record, and now China has published a report equally critical of the U.S., for “destabilizing the world economy and meddling in other countries' affairs.”

The United States is in a tricky situation. On the one hand, the U.S. wants to encourage human rights and increased democracy in China; on the other hand it fears alienating China, its most prominent trading partner, which holds upwards of $800 billion of American debt. So how has the U.S. walked this delicate tightrope so far? Not very well.

Perhaps the best recent example of the awkward U.S.-China relationship is the controversial meeting between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama. Most in the west see the Dalai Lama as a man of peace who dares to stand up to the might of the Chinese government. Not surprisingly, China considers him to be a threat to a unified China, due to his advocacy for the independence of Tibet. They also see him as a pawn of western nations bent on embarrassing the Chinese government. Even some western media sources have criticized the motives of the Dalai Lama. In an editorial from the UK’s Guardian, Brendan O’Neill describes the Dalai Lama as a poseur who “once auctioned his Land Rover on eBay for $80,000 and has even done an advert for Apple.” He also charges that the Dalai Lama “has [been] used as a battering ram by western governments in their culture war with China.”

But celebrities like Richard Gere and Sharon Stone are prominent followers of the Dalai Lama who advocate his return to Tibet, and American Buddhists have made some of his books pop-religion best sellers in America, so there was tremendous pressure on Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama. Although the meeting was carefully planned to try to not offend either side, it ended up offending both. Initially Obama refused to meet, citing the need to meet with China’s Hu Jintao first: human rights activists and western media called it a snub. When the meeting finally did happen it took place in a closed room without cameras. The Chinese were angry that the meeting took place at all.

Whether this and other rights issues are geat walls that will ultimately divide the two nations, or just side roads on the long march to cooperation remains unknown.



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Stalled START: A New Arms Race? Or Not.

In this week's episode of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker asks if the U.S. and Russia could be entering a new arms race. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!


As a young child in the mid-1980s, thoughts of total nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Russians would occasionally prevent me from sleeping. On one family holiday to Maine, I actually wondered if we were far enough away from major cities to be safe from an atomic blast.


Looking back on the decade it is easy to see why a little kid would be so uneasy. The threat of nuclear war was ingrained in popular culture, lurking in everything from movies to songs. In 1982, Time Magazine devoted nearly 3,500 words to an article entitled, "thinking the unthinkable."


Today such fears seem nearly as dated as the all-out nuclear panic that resulted in this 1950s public service announcement that acknowledged the imminent threat of the bomb, while advocating questionable albeit, hilarious, blast survival techniques. Picnic blankets and newspapers, anyone?


However, with negotiations on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) stalling in recent months, the global media have taken notice. As Ariel Cohen points out in a New York Times editorial, the failure to agree on a new treaty by the December 5 deadline, has left the two countries in "uncharted waters."


Or has it?


Calling Cohen's argument "alarmist and misleading," William D. Hartung argues that despite the delay in sorting out the new START agreement, Russia and the U.S. are still “abiding by the basic principles of the agreement”  as they craft a new one. 


The director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, Hartung notes that even if both sides chose to ignore START's provisions, "it is absurd to suggest that either side could gain a strategic advantage in the few weeks (or in the absolute worst case, months) it will take to hammer out a new treaty."


Hartung is also quick to dismiss what he terms the "unsupportable notion that there is a resurgent Russian bear out there, and that it cannot be trusted and should not be cooperated with in any substantial way." Such thinking, according to Cohen, is obsolete—the detritus of the Cold War—and is no longer relative today.


So are the media overreacting, then? Is it only a matter of time before the U.S. and Russia iron out the details of the new START, or is Hartung being cavalier about the whole thing? In today's world, how crucial is U.S.-Russia arms control to global security?





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From Europe with Love? Nobel Surprise on Both Sides of the Atlantic

In this week's Global Pulse episode, Obama's Nobel War and Peace Prize, host Erin Coker asks whether the Norwegian Nobel Committee made the right choice in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!

Following the unexpected announcement in Oslo last week, much of the domestic press attributed Obama's Nobel win to his international appeal, particularly in Europe.  The Christian Science Monitor notes the award indicated "a particularly European appreciation" of the U.S. president, while an AOL News headline reads "Obama's Nobel Reflects Europe's Approval."

"The puzzled and heated domestic reaction…is only the latest instance of a gulf in perception between the two sides of the Atlantic," writes James Graff. "The Nobel Committee's decision is a European vote of confidence on the way this particular American president is setting the global agenda."

There is little doubt that Obama is popular among Europeans. A recent Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Survey reported that 93 percent of Germans and 86 percent of Britons said they had confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. Similarly, 91 percent in France rated Obama favorably -- a dramatic shift from 2008 when only 13 percent of French expressed confidence in George W. Bush.

However, even the U.S. president’s transatlantic supporters were baffled and perplexed by the win, calling the award premature and, like their U.S. counterparts, questioning what Obama had actually done to warrant such an honor.  
"It used to be the rule that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to politicians if they could point to tangible political successes," writes Claus Christian Malzahn in a Der Spiegel editorial. "Awarding him the Nobel Prize now is like giving a medal to a marathon runner who has just managed the first few kilometers."

The U.K.'s Times Online took the criticism even further, calling the decision to award the prize to Obama "absurd," and accusing the committee of making a "mockery" of the award.

So if not an endorsement from Europe, what was behind the Nobel shakeup?

Some international media outlets point to former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjorn Jagland, appointed earlier this year to head the Nobel committee, as the driving force behind Obama's win. The Christian Science Monitor's global news blog notes that Jagland "has an activist vision for the Nobel as a prize that can spur peace, rather than simply reward its achievement."

France's Le Monde was even more blunt: "The former Nobel Committee president would have never nominated Obama."

Regardless of the politics behind the award, the reaction to Obama's Nobel is a reminder that action, not vision, will be most crucial in the president's long-term success at home and abroad.



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U.S. Media and the Overseas Invasion

In this week's special behind-the-scenes episode, Inside Global Pulse, host Erin Coker gives viewers an inside glimpse of what goes into the making of a Global Pulse Episode, particularly the role of international news outlets. Watch this episode below!

Since the conclusion of the Cold War, and particularly in the last decade, U.S. coverage of international news has significantly declined. While U.S. news outlets briefly ramped up overseas coverage immediately following 9/11, in recent years international stories have once again dropped off in favor of nationally focused pieces. In 2008, foreign news coverage was at a record low.

Strained budgets and sinking ad revenues have further altered the global media landscape, forcing the closure of U.S. foreign bureaus from Paris to Bangkok, with foreign correspondents in the traditional sense becoming increasingly obsolete.

Ironically, news outlets broadcasting in English have exploded in the last decade. Such newly emerging global news channels include Russia Today, China’s CCTV, Al Jazeera English, France 24, and Press TV from Iran, to name a few.  

Why the news invasion? Some experts point to a desire to offer a unique country-specific perspective on a world media stage dominated by CNN and the BBC. A jab, perhaps, at "Anglo-Saxon imperialism." Others see the phenomenon as propaganda by non-democratic governments like China, attempting to skew the facts. Al Jazeera English is still reviled by many Americans as promoting anti-western bias at best, and as a mouthpiece for dangerous extremists at worst.

Regardless of one's position on these international outlets, the majority of Americans are unable (or unlikely) to tune in. In a Foreign Policy editorial, Cyril Blet, author of Une Voix Mondiale Pour un État, (A World Voice for a State), a book profiling the state of world news, notes that unlike in Europe and elsewhere, international channels in the U.S. are available only via special cable or satellite packages, if at all. The lack of easy access to international news channels, he says, puts Americans at a disadvantage.

"When American viewers can't access international news, their ability to take part in global conversations suffers greatly," argues Blet. "The average U.S. television-watcher doesn't ever see the diverse interpretations of any single event that filter in to most TVs across the world."

With the Internet making international programming more accessible than ever, this may change in the coming years. But perhaps less important than specific broadcast platforms in international news distribution, is the belief in the value of these global conversations.



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Bill Clinton Pleases North Korea's Kim Jong Il

For this week's Global Pulse episode, Mr. Clinton Goes to Pyongyang, host Erin Coker asks the question: Did Kim Jong Il win this one? Share your thoughts and read our blog post, "Bill Clinton's Unique Position as U.S. Humanitarian and Diplomat", below!




Bill Clinton's Unique Position as U.S. Humanitarian and Diplomat

Did Kim Jong Il win this one? After being held in North Korea for several months, two American journalists finally returned home, thanks to Bill Clinton's deft negotiations with Kim Jong Il. Ultimately, the release of the two young women served the interests of both of these poweful men on the international political stage. 
One question that remains is whether it should have been the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, negotiating the return of U.S. citizens. An article on CNN's website commented that, "Former presidents are used as envoys and undertake humanitarian missions all the time," and, "Hillary herself has said she considered her husband a trusted adviser and could even consider using him where appropriate." In the world of international diplomacy and humanitarianism, acheiving the goal is more important than who achieves it.


Bill Clinton might be the perfect candidate to create an opening on the crucial nuclear issue. As a former president and husband of the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, he is in a unique position to be a humanitarian ambassador. He also has charm and recognition that allow him to gain access to the most difficult of places.

The video below, from Al Jazeera English, outlines the U.S. media debate sparked by the visit. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is calling it a humanitarian mission, while former Bush administration officials say Pyonyang is using the reporters as "pawns" to "enhance [the] regime's legitimacy." You decide:  




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